In the wake of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, MSc Development Studies alum Alejandra Padin-Dujon considers what was and was not achieved for the Loss and Damage agenda over the course of the climate conference.
In his poem ‘Harlem’ (1951), the great American poet Langston Hughes wrote:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load
Or does it explode?
COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 2022 was a story of dreams deferred. Billed as the ‘implementation COP,’ it failed to implement. After the fact, the COP outcome on ‘loss and damage’ is being hailed as a success—but as negotiations came down to the wire in Egypt, the mood was sombre. G77 countries, presenting a united front, nonetheless responded differently to the EU’s proposal of a two-year delay to operationalise a new loss and damage fund—a proposal at odds with the G77’s prior insistence on immediate action. At the time, the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community asserted that ‘division and delay tactics [would] not work.’
The Conference of Parties did eventually reach an agreement on loss and damage—at a time when several groups indicated a willingness to walk away with no deal, no less. However, it is important to temper the victorious tone. Developing countries still do not have a defined and favourable finance facility. Neither are the existing finance pledges by developed countries for loss and damage remotely sufficient: they total approximately 0.1% of the projected annual need by 2030. Funding commitments are not limited to grant-based finance, meaning they could rack up more debt. In the face of such ambiguity, we spectators must ask ourselves: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
Does it explode?
Perhaps the aftermath of COP27 will feature an ‘explosion.’ What can be said with certainty is that COP itself was an explosion of sorts. For thirty years, cohorts of developing countries had been fighting to secure a spot for loss and damage finance—i.e., funds to cover the impacts of acute and slow-onset climate disasters—on the official COP agenda for negotiation. The last disappointed attempt at pre-COP negotiations in Bonn, Germany appears to have prompted swift and determined action. In Egypt, the ‘G77 + China’ countries formed a united front and mounted a successful campaign. Not only was loss and damage added to the agenda, but protracted and bitter negotiations made it the last man standing: the final item, pushing negotiations past their traditional end, and well into another Sunday.
The Global Shield
The matter of loss and damage featured three major developments at COP. First, amidst the backdrop of intransigent positions, the G7 and V20 launched the Global Shield initiative: a non-UN concept, variously applauded and suspected of being a distraction devised by developed countries to lessen the pressure to reach a deal. (Germany pre-empted such criticism, reaffirming support for the formal loss and damage negotiations.) The Global Shield managed to raise approximately £250 million in committed funds, as developed countries even beyond the G7 redirected their prior finance pledges.
The Santiago Network
Second, negotiators finally agreed on text to operationalise the Santiago Network, a technical assistance initiative conceived in 2019. Upon reaching this decision, the room erupted into applause. The Santiago Network brought with it one key win for developing countries: it included an Advisory Board in addition to a Secretariat. This Advisory Board, an operational entity that would likely report directly to the CMA (the highest authority of the Paris Agreement), had been opposed by most developed countries, who favoured a more protracted accountability process (or else no operational body at all).
Finally, we come to the business of the ‘finance facility.’ The longest-fought battle at COP27 pivoted on four points:
- Would any kind of fund be formed? If so, when (i.e., by 2024 or sometime sooner)?
- Would it embrace a ‘mosaic of solutions’ that would likely include private sector insurance and loans, or would it provide only grant-based finance?
- Would the fund be accountable to the COP and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or simply be a fund formed under the UNFCCC, with less compulsion and regulation?
- Who would contribute, and who would be the beneficiaries? Relatedly: what would be the status of high emitting developing countries, like Saudi Arabia or China?
Or crust and sugar over?
As it stands, a fund will be formed (though not immediately); it will involve a mosaic-esque ‘wide variety’ of funding sources; and developed countries are ‘urged’ to play a special role in providing finance (though there is no mention of historical responsibility or that key UN phrase: ‘collective but differentiated responsibilities’). Further details (presumably including the fund’s relationship to the UNFCCC) will be established at a later date by a new Transitional Committee.
The very fact that a fund will be formed is a massive and positive departure from the status quo. Unfortunately, this fund is not the banner under which developing countries united. It seems that the overtures of developed countries (backed by substantial geopolitical and financial power, of course) have temporarily compromised the dream of a loss and damage finance facility, covering it over with the sugary crust of a provisional win.
Does it dry up?
It is impossible to tell whether the impact of the COP27 decision text on loss and damage will be to fragment the G77 bloc, dilute its resolve, or add fuel to the fiery passion with which developing countries push for loss and damage finance. I am tempted, however, to say the latter. If the past three decades showed the global community anything, it will have been that developing countries are loath to abandon the crusade for loss and damage finance—that pressing ‘dream deferred.’
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Main Image: Artist floats atop the 15.69m² of Arctic sea ice that his flight to Greenland will melt by Adam Sébire on Climatevisuals.org.